Mary Heaney looks at the technology boom south of the border
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In the past decade, the electronics sector has seen a dramatic expansion with the Republic of Ireland now taking 23 per cent of all new greenfield electronics investment in Europe. Four of the top 10 PC hardware companies now operate in Ireland and the recent announcement by US computer company Gateway 2000 that it is to invest a further £25 million in its Dublin plant has generated a bullish attitude in the Irish technology sector.
"There is a continual influx of new multinational companies, particularly telecoms, computer and telemarketing, coming into Ireland," says Robert Ryan, of Dublin law firm Beauchamps. "Telecoms and technology has taken off in a big way for the legal market."
The trend of US computer manufacturers locating their European bases in Ireland has been accompanied by "the development of indigenous software houses and computer service companies," according to Wendy Hederman of Mason Hayes & Curran.
"The growth in the high technology sector has meant new work for new clients," she says. "Manufacturers of computer parts, software developers, telecoms equipment suppliers, and Internet service providers all require regular legal advice."
But telecommunications law has not expanded as rapidly in Ireland as in other European countries because of the continued monopoly of Telecom Eireann on the telephone network. However, Hederman says the sector is beginning to shape up.
The recent licensing of the second GSM mobile telephone system saw the involvement of a number of major firms representing the six consortia which tendered for the license. An Irish-Norwegian consortium, East Digifone, represented by William Fry, clinched the deal. Beauchamps and Gerrard Scallan & O'Brien acted for some of the parties involved at earlier stages of the deal. "There was a lot of work involved," comments John Glackin, of Gerrard Scallan.
Another telecoms venture which has created a stir among firms is the Irish government's search through Morgan Stanley for partners to take a 35 per cent stake in Telecom Eireann. A number of firms got in on the act, assisting interested parties "in preliminary due diligence after Telecom Eireann opened its books on a limited basis to selected interested parties," says Glackin.
In its bid to talk the language of high-tech clients, Mason Hayes & Curran went one step further and opened a home page on the Internet's World Wide Web. Hederman believes the firm was the first in the Republic to come on-line, although others have now followed suit. The page, at http://www.failte.com/mhc/, is intended as a source of information for people interested in Ireland as a business location. And, says Hederman, "it also provides a point of contact for potential clients with the firm."
She adds: "Part of the motivation was to illustrate the firm's strong practice in the computer and telecommunications sectors and to let clients in those sectors know that we understand their business and can speak their language."
On a recent trip by American IT companies from Boston, John Yates, of Rotherham-based firm Oxley & Coward, noted that US companies looked to Ireland over the UK when considering European bases. And with tax advantages for manufacturing companies and software houses staying valid into the next century, it looks like technology is set to be a buoyant sector for the Irish legal market of the millennium.